Almost all the media and political debate about how to tackle radical Islam and terrorism is based on one critical assumption: that jihadists are unrepresentative and do not represent “true” Islam. That they therefore can be talked out of their dangerous attitudes. That they can be “deradicalised”.
But what if that is simply not true?
Clive Kessler is emeritus professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of NSW. He has studied Islam and the sources of militant Islam for more than 50 years:
Among Muslims worldwide today, about 10 to 15 per cent, it may be suggested, are modernist, reform-minded and democratic; perhaps another 10 to 15 per cent are militant, radical, extreme and potentially active in violent forms.
Between these two clusters, the 70 per cent in the middle represent what may be called conventional or quasi-traditional Islam.
The question is: what is the relation of the views of the radical extreme to those of the centrist mainstream? Are they opposed, a deviationist breakaway, or are they basically identical, or at least complementary?
It would be reassuring if things were otherwise, but the basic facts are clear. Like the radical fringe or fundamentalist extreme, the Muslim mainstream adheres to, through explicit affirmation or by unreflecting habitual assent, the same underlying propositions that constitute the radical and militant world view. Like that of the militants, their Islam, or view of it, is basically supersessionist…
Many Muslims, not just the militants but those throughout the mainstream or centre ground of their faith community’s social spectrum, chafe against the humiliation the world of Islam has experienced in modern times at the hand of non-Muslims, believe this situation must and will be reversed, and that determined action on the part of the faithful is necessary to bring about that divinely ordained historical restoration of Islamic dignity, autonomy and even ascendancy.
The mainstream and the militants, including the violent implementers of militant ideas, share this outlook. The difference is simply, or largely, one of the means and measures and strategies…
Since the radicals and the mainstream share — if in different forms and style and emphasis — the same religiously grounded historical world view, the two orientations are basically complementary and congruent, not opposed. So there is no ground within the mainstream for calling back the deviant minority; no distinctive standpoint, authentic and authoritative, to which the radicals may be called to return by abandoning their own identifiable heresies. The moderates from the centrist mainstream stand bereft of the religiously based political and moral authority to make such calls persuasively, in ways that may prove enduringly convincing…
Increasingly, the militants and the mainstream share a common mindset and set of attitudes. The difference is that those in the mainstream tend to accept and go along with them habitually, while the radical Islamist ideologues take those framing ideas seriously and literally, and seek to affirm them actively…
If this is the case … then community-based, community-supported and community-driven strategies of deradicalisation cannot work. They are doomed from the start.
Of course, if Kessler is right, the implications for our immigration policy are profound – yet still impossible for politicians to publicly discuss.